Latest update: May 23rd, 2012
Book Week is coming soon in Israel. In America, there’s also a book week, but it’s called Jewish Book Week to distinguish it from Chinese Book Week, and Italian Book Week, and Afro-American Book Week, and Puerto Rican Book Week, and Comic Book Week. In Israel, since everyone is Jewish, except for the Arabs who don’t read books, it’s simply called Book Week.
Actually, it’s really Book Month; since the “People of the Book” love books so much, stores continuing running their discount sales for weeks. For me, Book Week is starting today, when a newly published French translation of my book of short stories, Days of Mashiach, is being featured at an all day “French Book Fair” being held at the Menachem Begin Center in Jerusalem. The collection of wry and humorous stories about Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora is being put out by a non-Jewish publisher who compares my writing to Kafka and Voltaire. My prize-winning novel, Tevye in the Promised Land also appeared in a French translation, and it seems that I have a somewhat of an avid following in France.
Anyway, with Book Week around the corner, it’s a great time to devote the blogs we will be writing in the upcoming month to talk about some of the most important books in the world – Jewish books of course. I love books and I hope you do too. While many of these book reports will be scholarly in nature, and not regular blogs, I will try to intersperse the heavy stuff with my normal spicy felafels on rye.
This week, between our celebration of Jerusalem Day and Shavuot, in order to better understand the supreme importance of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People and Torah, we will be examining a series of poignant essays written by Rabbi Kook in his classic work, Orot. Presented here are condensed versions of the full commentaries which appear in the book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael, which I had the privilege of co-writing with the distinguished Torah scholar, Rabbi David Samson of Jerusalem.
Certainly one of the most important Torah treatises of our times, the book, Orot, explores the deepest understandings of the Nation of Israel, and Israel’s Redemption. In beginning his treatise with a series of essays on Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Kook explains that a proper understanding of the Nation of Israel and Torah can only be obtained after one first recognizes the significance of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People. To understand who we are as a Nation, and to actualize our role in the world, we must first understand the special relationship between the Divinely-Chosen People and the Divinely-Chosen Land.
Rabbi Kook’s unique style is both poetic and deeply intellectual, and so you will have to bear with me as I endeavor to explain his writings with the seriousness that is due them. As I mentioned, Rabbi David Samson, one of Israel’s top educators, and a longtime student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, aided my understanding of Rabbi Kook’s immensely deep and incomparable writings.
The first essay of Orot is not only a study of our connection to the Land of Israel, it is also an introduction to the Segula of the Nation, one of the main themes of Rabbi Kook’s writings. This Segula, a Divine inner attachment to God, unique to the Jewish People, is the key to understanding the unity of the Nation of Israel, the Torah, the Land of Israel, and God.
To comprehend the depths of Rabbi Kook’s writing, we first must recognize that the world has both a physical and spiritual dimension. A world perspective encompassing the physical and spiritual worlds does not come easily. Much work is needed to activate our inner natures, and to cultivate our spiritual powers. This is our task as Jews and a holy Nation – to link the physical world with the Divine. As Rabbi Kook makes clear, Eretz Yisrael is the God given place ideally suited for this task.
Upon a superficial examination, one might think that our attachment to Eretz Yisrael is based merely on a historical relationship, or on the need for a homeland to bring our oppressed and scattered people together. Rabbi Kook rejects this understanding outright. He calls upon us to probe beyond surface explanations toward a much deeper contemplation. Our connection to the Land of Israel, like the connection of the soul to the body, transcends rational explanations. The connection is a deep spiritual bond. Rabbi Kook tells us that Eretz Yisrael is an intrinsic and inseparable part of the Nation, a deep inner root of the Nation’s existence – and not merely a branch.
For instance, our connection to Eretz Yisrael is not dependent on history. Eretz Yisrael was given to Avraham Avinu without previous historical connection. The bond between Avraham and the Land was not based on any external reason. The Brit between Avraham and the Land was Divine. Only in the Holy Land can the national life of the Chosen People be totally uplifted to God. Prophecy is exclusive to the Land of Israel, or in its behalf. The many mitzvot which are unique to the Land, and the Beit Hamikdash’s location only in Jerusalem are all manifestations of this Divine connection. It is an attachment based on Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Inspiration, beyond scientific inquiry and rational explanation. This first essay of Orot introduces us to this higher vision and to the need to perceive Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael in a deeper, more poignant light. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes: “Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter.”
The Hebrew word, “Hitzoni,” in this important first sentence has the meaning of external, superficial, peripheral, secondary; a side matter lacking central importance – something which is not integrally vital to existence. Before explaining what the Land of Israel is in positive terms, Rabbi Kook tells us what the Land of Israel is not. He first rejects the mistaken understanding which views Eretz Yisrael as a means to a goal, and not as a goal in itself. He wants to negate the opinion which maintains that while the Land of Israel has historical and even strategic importance, it is not something vital to Jewish existence.
A few simple examples will help us understand the difference between an external matter and the central matter itself. When a person wakes up in the morning, he dresses and begins his daily routines. The clothes he chooses to wear are an important part of his day, but they are not the person himself. While there is a popular expression, “The clothes make the man,” one readily recognizes the superficiality of this phrase. Though a person may feel more attractive wearing a blue shirt than a black one, his choice of attire does not represent his essential self. Joseph Cohen remains Joseph Cohen whatever suit of clothes he wears.
Similarly, a person may feel different riding to work in a Cadillac than in a Chevrolet, but the car remains an external appurtenance and not the man himself. A man’s identity is much more than his profession, his clothes, his car, his job, or his residence. All are external elements which influence his life, but they do not constitute his inner self.
One can readily understand these examples. In the case of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, however, the relationship is not an external one. The connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel is not a peripheral matter. On the contrary, the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel are inseparably united. As Rabbi Kook will explain, the Land of Israel is an absolute foundation of the Jewish Nation. The Jewish people without the Land of Israel are not the essential Jewish people, but rather a mere shadow of their inner potential.
The thought that Eretz Yisrael is an accessory to Judaism, and not a central pillar in itself, is a tragic distortion which was caused by the nearly 2000 year exile of the Jewish People from the Land of Israel. After years of wandering in foreign countries, scattered among the gentiles, and separated from our homeland, our orientation to the Land of Israel became distorted and confused. Instead of being a day-to-day reality integral to our lives, Eretz Yisrael became a faraway dream. In our Diaspora existence, the most important aspects of Judaism were the matters which affected our daily lives – Torah study, prayer, the Sabbath, Kashrut, and the mitzvot which we were still able to perform. Eretz Yisrael became something of secondary importance – a place to which we would one day return, but not an essential part of the Jewish experience.
This misconception results when we misunderstand the true culture of the Jewish People. The foundation of our culture is not just the holidays and the performance of precepts, but in our being the Nation which brings the word and blessing of God to the world. As we will learn, our national attachment to God can be achieved exclusively through the Land of Israel.
To help us remember the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Judaism and to the nation of Israel, let us reflect on a few teachings of our Sages regarding the special qualities of the land of Israel.
The Zohar calls the Land of Israel, the heart of all lands.
The word of God goes forth to the world only from the Land of Israel, as the prophet says, “From Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem.”
The Midrash tells us that the goodness which God grants to the Jewish people emanates from Zion: “All of the blessings and consolations, all of the good which the Holy One, Blessed Be He, brings to the Jewish People, all of them come from Zion.”
Additionally, all of the blessings which God sends to the world flow out of Eretz Yisrael: “All of the vitality of all of this world, and all of the blessings and Divine Influence to all – they all come down initially to Zion, and from there, they are proportioned to everyone on earth.”
Hashem divided the world between nations and gave each nation a land suited to it. He fashioned and formed the Nation of Israel and set it in the center of His world blueprint, in the Land particularly suited to its holiness. Eretz Yisrael enjoys a special relationship with the Almighty. It is the meeting place, the point of intersection between the Divine and the physical world. For example, when the Divine seeks written expression in the world, the result is Torah. When Hashem seeks a national, earthly, human expression, the result is Am Yisrael. So too, the manifestation of Kedusha in geographic terms appears only in Eretz Yisrael. “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. This is My resting place; here I will dwell” (Tehillim, 132:13-14). These Divinely designed receptacles of holiness, the Torah, Am Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael, are united in their essence.
A special Divine Providence graces Eretz Yisrael to the exclusion of all other lands. It is “The Land where the eyes of the Lord our God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year till the end” (Devarim, 11:12).
Certainly, God reigns the world over. From our point of view, however, there is a great difference in our ability to receive the Divine content. Our Sages teach us that God has placed angelic forces to rule over all other lands. Only in the Land of Israel is God’s Providence direct, without any intermediary angels (Ramban on the Torah, Vayikra, 18:25). Only in Israel is the worship of God pure without any barriers or impurities. This is how the Ramban explains the Gemara’s startling declaration that “All who live in Eretz Yisrael resemble someone who has a God, and all who live outside the land of Israel resemble someone who has no God” (Ketubot 110B). In Chutz L’Aretz, the worship of God only reaches the level of the celestial angels, whereas in Eretz Yisrael, Divine service is direct to God Himself, with no interference whatsoever.
This unique, life connection between Hashem and the Jewish People in Israel has very real quantitative and qualitative advantages. For instance, Eretz Yisrael is the Land where the Shechinah appears, and where prophecy is transmitted to the Jewish people.
Eretz Yisrael is the only place on earth where the Torah can be observed in all of its fullness. The commandments themselves were only given to be performed in Israel (See Ramban, loc cited). Our Sages teach that the commandments which we perform in the Diaspora are only reminders so we won’t forget how to do them until we can return to Israel to observe them properly (Sifre, Ekev, 11:18). The true value of the mitzvot is only in Eretz Yisrael. Outside the Land, the precepts have an educational value, but the Torah repeatedly tells us that Eretz Yisrael is the place for their performance. Accordingly, our Rabbis have told us that dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah, 80).
In the Land of Israel, we are a living people. The Gaon of Vilna writes that in the Diaspora, we are like bodies lacking spirit – the physical shell of a people without inner life (Likutei HaGra, end of Safra D’Tzniuta. Ezekiel, 37, 12-14).
This seems preposterous. After all, the Jewish People survived in exile for nearly 2000 years. Many of our greatest Torah scholars lived in galut. Profound Talmudic works were written there. Orthodox communities thrived all over the world. How can this vast Jewish achievement be considered a mere physical shell?
First, it must be made clear that the lack of life and spirit referred to is not on the individual level, but in reference to our national life as Clal Yisrael. A proper understanding of Clal Yisrael, of the Jewish People as a whole, is vital to an encompassing understanding of Torah, and to the writings of Rabbi Kook. To understand the life-giving connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, we first have to comprehend who we are as a Clal. The normal definition of a Clal is a collective, a gathering of individuals for the purpose of furthering a common goal. In a partnership, when the goals have been achieved, the partners can split up and go their own way. The partnership or collective never takes on a life of its own, but rather only exists to serve the needs of its members. This is not the case with the Jewish People. Clal Yisrael is not just the sum total of the Jewish People at any one time. It is the eternal soul of the Nation, past, present, and future. It is a Divine creation, above time and physical space, which was formed before the world came into existence. The soul of the Jewish People, the Torah, and Eretz Yisrael are one. Their roots exist in transcendental unity in the most exalted realms of the Divine.
Our true life is as a Clal, and not as a collection of individual Jews. In the Diaspora, Jewish nationhood is shattered. We lack the Divine spirit which fills Clal Yisrael when the nation is living its full sovereign life in Israel. The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is a picture of the Jewish People in the Diaspora. Outside the Land of Israel we are like corpses without spirit. Only with the ingathering of the exiles to Israel do our dry bones come to life:
“Thus says the Lord God; Behold O My people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the Land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves, O My people, and have brought you up out of your graves, and I shall put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land…” (Ezekiel, loc cited).
Eretz Yisrael is the Land which was Divinely created for Clal Yisrael. By Divine fiat, the Jewish people cannot be an independent Nation in Germany, Uganda, America, or in any other Land. Only in Eretz Yisrael can we be a sovereign people with our own government, language, and army. Everywhere else on the globe, we are minorities of foreign countries, alienated from our own true national framework and homeland. Thus, because Jewish Nationhood is a foundation of Torah, the most complete Judaism is the Judaism practiced by the Jewish People when they are sovereign in their own Land. As Rabbi Kook tells us at the end of this essay, true Jewish life is being Jewish in Israel.
In the light of this introduction, we can take a more meaningful look at the essay’s first sentence:
“Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter, an external acquisition of the nation; it is not merely a means toward the goal of the general coalescing of the Nation, nor of strengthening its material existence, nor even its spiritual.”
Generally, people believe that the reason a nation needs a land is to insure its physical existence. Obviously, a place to live is a foundation of any nation. According to this world view, the land only provides a physical shelter. The culture of the nation evolves from the society which the people establish, and not from the land, which possesses only external importance.
Rabbi Kook begins his essay on Eretz Yisrael by rejecting this way of thinking. He tells us that Eretz Yisrael is not merely a means towards a goal, lacking value in itself. A means is something which you can live without if you have a suitable replacement. This is the world view which led Theodore Herzl to look toward Uganda as a possible site for the reestablishment of the Jewish Nation. To his way of thinking, the land was merely the means toward the goal of creating a national homeland. Of course, the Land of Israel had historical significance, but Uganda or Argentina could do just as well. Herzl and other early Zionists also understood that a Jewish homeland was needed for cultural reasons – to prevent assimilation and shelter the Nation from the dangers of foreign ideologies, but the land itself, its location, climate, features, and history were not for them the deciding factors. The goal was the physical coalescing of the nation – the land was merely a vehicle to help achieve this end.
Obviously, the plan for Uganda never materialized. “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of God is what stands.” Among the laws of the universe which God created is that the Jewish People belong in Israel. Jewish life outside of Israel is abnormal – a devastating punishment and curse. Jews can live as scattered individuals throughout the world, from Yemen to Brooklyn to Paris, but they can only live as a sovereign Nation in Israel.
Rabbi Kook writes that Eretz Yisrael is not merely a place of physical refuge for downtrodden Jews. Nor is it just a place to attain spiritual heights or to do extra mitzvot. It is not to be seen merely as a wonderful place to send Birthright kids on a ten-day trip in order to strengthen their Jewish identity and pride. How then are we to relate to the Land of Israel? Once we are freed from erroneous understandings, we can attempt to discover a deeper, more encompassing vision: “Eretz Yisrael is an independent unit, bound with a living attachment with the Nation, bound with inner Segulot with the nation’s existence.”
What is the meaning of this difficult sentence? Firstly, the Land of Israel is not merely a means, but a value and goal in itself. It is connected by a living bond which is inseparable from the Nation. The Land and the Nation cannot attain their full life and expression, one without the other. They are complementary, united, with an active spiritual and physical union. Without the Jewish People in Israel, the Land is doomed to lie in desolation, as it had throughout nearly 2000 years of exile. Similarly, just as the Land is desolate when Jews are not in it, the Jewish People are desolate when they are not in the Land. Outside the Land of Israel, the Jewish People are wanderers without their own country, waiting to rise to resurrection and rebirth. True, Jews in the Diaspora can be successful and make outstanding contributions to world civilization, but only on an individual level. Without our own Land, we exist as individuals, stripped of our national foundation and splendor.
Rabbi Kook tells us that at the core of the bond between the Land and the Nation is an inner Segula, a unique spiritual holiness granted by God which the Land and the Nation share in common. The concept of Segula is usually translated into English as “a special treasure.” The Torah tells us that the Jewish People are to be God’s Segula among the nations. “You shall be My own Segula from among all of the peoples.” This Segula is expressed in Israel’s Divine chosenness, in being God’s special treasure amongst the other nations of the world. Our distinction as God’s chosen people is manifest in our Kedusha, our eternity, and in our prophetic potential. We are the bearers of the word of God in the world.
The inner Segula of Clal Yisrael is also shared by Eretz Yisrael. A special Divine chosenness unites the two in an inseparable holy bond. For instance, in our daily morning prayers, in the section of Pesukei D’Zimrah, we say, “For the Lord chose Zion, He desired it for His habitation,” and in almost the same breath, we continue, “For the Lord chose Yaacov as His own, Israel as His Segula.” Both the Land and the Nation of Israel are chosen. “For Hashem will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His heritage” (Tehillim, 94:14). God’s heritage is the Land of Israel, as we learn from the verse, “Then He established it for Yaacov as a statute, for Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, `To you I shall give the land of Canaan, the lot of your heritage'” (Tehillim, 105:10-11). The Nation and the Land are eternally intertwined in God’s plan for creation. Even their names are the same. Yisrael refers to both the Land and the nation.
Thus, Eretz Yisrael is much more than a means. It is of supreme value in itself. The Kedusha of the land does not evolve from the mitzvot performed there. Rather, the unique mitzvot of the Land stem from the inherent holiness of the Land. This is why they are called “the mitzvot that depend on the Land.” The Land is holy by itself.
Rabbi Kook tells us that the specialness of the Land and of the Nation is something above the general, rational understanding of man. For instance, one of the most outstanding aspects of the Segula of the land is prophecy. Just as the Jewish people are the people of prophecy, the Land of Israel is the place of prophecy on earth. Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, in his book, The Kuzari, explains how prophecy distinguishes Israel from all other lands. In the same way that one country may have an abundance of oil, and another vast resources of gold, Eretz Yisrael holds the monopoly on prophecy. It occurs only in the Land of Israel, or pertaining to the Land of Israel.
Prophecy is one way in which the Land of Israel facilitates the culmination and adulthood of the Jewish people. Only by living in Israel can the Jewish People attain their true and maximum potential, and be a kingdom of prophets as in the days of King Saul when prophets roamed the Land. For Divine truth to be revealed in the world, the Jewish People need to be in Israel. Thus Rabbi Kook writes:
“The thought regarding Eretz Yisrael that it has merely a peripheral value to facilitate the subsistence of the unified Nation; even when it comes to fortify the concept of Judaism of the Diaspora, in order to preserve its form, and to strengthen the belief and fear of Hashem, and to strengthen the performance of the commandments in a proper fashion – this orientation toward Eretz Yisrael is not worthy of lasting fruition, for its foundation is rickety in light of the towering, unshakable Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael.”
Here, Rabbi Kook returns to re-emphasize his original teaching that the Land of Israel is not something secondary to Judaism and to the Jewish Nation. He is addressing an erroneous belief that the Jewish People can live fully without Eretz Yisrael. This viewpoint asserts that the Judaism of the Diaspora is an end in itself, and that Jewish life in the galut is a positive goal. In Rabbi Kook’s eyes, this philosophy lacks foundation when compared to the towering Kedusha of Jewish existence in Eretz Yisrael. Like the exile itself, this weltanschauung of galut lacks lasting value and the fruitfulness to insure its continued existence.
We mentioned that Herzl and other secular Zionists saw Eretz Yisrael as merely a means to unite the countryless Jews and thus preserve the physical Nation. They failed to understand the vital connection between the Jewish People and Eretz Yisrael because they did not realize that the Nation of Israel was essentially different from the nations of the world. They did not understand our true spiritual identity and our true national ideal which reaches culmination with the building of the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem and the export of Divine blessing from Zion to the rest of the world.
Rabbi Kook writes that this short-sightedness is not limited to secular Zionists, but can be found in religious circles as well. Sometimes it takes the form of an outright rejection of the Land of Israel. Proponents of this view claim that Jews can live a full and even better Jewish life in the galut than in Eretz Yisrael. Others, less extreme in their rejection of Israel, agree that Eretz Yisrael is the ideal Jewish homeland, but at some later date, with the advent of Mashiach.
As a general rule, Diaspora leaders focus on strengthening their Diaspora communities, and not on bringing their communities to Eretz Yisrael. This Diaspora outlook on Judaism downplays the centrality of Jewish Nationhood in order to strengthen Jewish life in galut. When Eretz Yisrael is made out to be a secondary matter, the building of Torah in exile is seen to be the highest and ultimate goal.
In this misguided philosophy, the mission of Judaism is to unfold in the Diaspora. The Torah is no longer to go forth from Zion, but rather from Berlin and New York. According to this theory, a Jew can be a more influential light to the nations when he is scattered amongst the gentiles. Eretz Yisrael is reduced to being a faraway, metaphysical, future ideal. This distortion can transform galut communities into bastions of Judaism in much the same way as some Jews in Babylon tragically believed they had discovered a new Jerusalem outside of Eretz Yisrael (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim, 6:8)
Moreover, the material and physical demands of a homeland are seen as dangers interfering with Torah, mitzvot, and the service of God, as in the tragic case of the Spies who wanted to remain in the wilderness. This view ignores the Gemara in Tractate Ketubot which states:
“Always a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of inhabitants are idol worshippers, and not live in the Diaspora, even in a city where the majority of residents are Jews” (Ketubot 110B).
This is also the Halachic decision of the Rambam (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:12).
Placing the Diaspora in the center of Jewish life negates the inner Segula of Eretz Yisrael to the Nation. Eretz Yisrael is seen as something external to the spirituality of Torah, without any spiritual content of its own. Only the Torah remains.
Torah, however, is more than a spiritual ideal. Judaism is God’s plan for uplifting all of the world to the service of God, the physical side of life as well as the spiritual; the national as well as the individual. This exalted goal can only be achieved by the example of a Nation – when Israel lives its complete Torah life in Eretz Yisrael. We are to be a light to the world, not as righteous individuals scattered throughout the four corners of the globe, but as a Divine holy Nation with an army of Torah scholars, as well as a army of tanks; a justice system founded on Torah; Divinely-ordained agricultural laws; with the Jerusalem Temple at the center of national life. This is the call of Sinai which Moshe brings to the Nation, in his very first teaching in the book of Devarim: “You have dwelt long enough in this mountain, turn away and take up your journey… go in and possess the Land” (Devarim, 1,6-8).
The Torah was not given to be lived in the wilderness of Sinai, but in the hills and valleys of Eretz Yisrael. Sinai is not to be the last stop of the Exodus from slavery. In desiring to keep the spiritual side of Torah alone, and not its holy, earthly component, the Spies brought about the death of their entire generation. The lack of faith they displayed by rebellion against God’s commandment to settle in the Promised Land reverberates until today when there are still those who argue against coming to Israel.
Of course, if our Nation has been scattered in exile due to its sins, making it physically impossible to return to our Land, we are not punished for not fulfilling the mitzvah of living in Israel. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would compare this to a situation which frequently occurred in Russian communities when Jews were unable to procure an etrog during the holiday of Sukkot. In a case like this, a Jew has no recourse, and he cannot perform the mitzvah. But the mitzvah of taking an etrog on Sukkot does not disappear. So too with the mitzvah of living in Israel – the moment the mitzvah returns to our hands, it is our sacred obligation to fulfill it.
Thus, Rabbi Kook writes that if we look upon Eretz Yisrael as a sidelight to Judaism, our connection to Judaism will fail to bear fruit. As generations pass, Judaism will fail to survive in our children because Judaism’s foundations in the Diaspora are weak in comparison with the towering Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, relegating Eretz Yisrael to a secondary role in the life of the Jewish Nation is to be rejected even when it comes for the seemingly positive purpose of strengthening the Judaism in the galut. Ultimately, any Jewish outlook which undermines our connection to Eretz Yisrael is destined to fail, because the Judaism of galut is, by its very nature, temporary, a punishment and a curse.
Rabbi Kook concludes his essay by saying:
“The concept of Judaism in the Diaspora will only find true strength through the depth of its involvement in Eretz Yisrael. Only through its longing for Eretz Yisrael will Diaspora Judaism constantly receive its inherent qualities. The yearning for Salvation gives the Judaism of the Diaspora its power of stamina; whereas the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is the Salvation itself.”
Here, Rabbi Kook leaves us with a very illuminating insight. If one wants to truly strengthen Judaism in the Diaspora, the only lasting way is to strengthen its connection to Eretz Yisrael. This means that there is no essential independent essence to the Diaspora. Diaspora Jewry has meaning only in its relation to Israel. Galut is a passing phenomenon. A blemish which will heal. A punishment which is destined to come to an end. No matter how pleasant certain exiles may seem, Jewish life outside of Israel is an abnormal situation, an unhealthy Judaism, a destruction of our National format, and a curse. In galut, we are ill with a lingering sickness. Our body is shattered and spiritually diseased. Thinking that galut is our healthy ideal is to build a structure which is destined to collapse.
The strengthening of Torah learning and Torah practice in exile will not come by minimizing the need to be in Eretz Yisrael, and by making Jewish life galut a valid Jewish option in itself, but rather by linking Diaspora Judaism to the source of Divine Jewish life and holiness in Eretz Yisrael.
In reality, the Diaspora is the means, and Eretz Yisrael is the goal. The exile is merely a way station, a detention center, a transitory stop until we return to our true life in Israel. For this reason, the Halacha forbids us to build houses of stone in the Diaspora, because stone is a symbol of permanence, while we are always to long to return home to Zion (See the “Shlah HaKodesh, Amud HaShalom,” end of Sukkah; and Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 138).
Thus we learn that Eretz Yisrael is the true goal of the Torah. In reality, it is Diaspora existence which is peripheral, external, secondary to Judaism. In this light, we can understand Rashi’s commentary concerning the commandment of Tefillin which reappears in the second paragraph of the Shema. On the verse, “And you shall put these words of Mine on your heart,” Rashi explains that the commandment of Tefillin is reiterated after the warning of exile to teach that we are to perform the mitzvot even after we are exiled from Eretz Yisrael, so they will not be new to us when we return – for the true place of Judaism and the mitzvot is in the Land of Israel (Rashi, Devarim, 11:18).
A Jew’s true relation to Judaism comes not when he asks what Israel can do for him, but when he asks what he can do for Israel. The complete Judaism is the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael. This, Rabbi Kook teaches, is the Salvation itself: “The yearning for Salvation gives the Judaism of the Diaspora its power of stamina; whereas the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is the Salvation itself.”
In emphasizing the yearning for Salvation, Rabbi Kook is referring to a Gemara which relates that when a person dies and reaches the Heavenly Court, he is asked several questions: “Did you deal honestly in business? Did you set aside fixed times for the study of Torah? Did you yearn for Salvation?” (Shabbat 31A).
What does it mean to “yearn for Salvation”? The commentary of the Ran explains this as a yearning for the fulfillment of the words of the Prophets in one’s lifetime? A Jew has to have one eye on the Tanach, and one eye on the daily headlines to see how the prophecies of Redemption are being materialized in his lifetime. Many great Sages, including the Ramban, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, the Gaon of Vilna, and Rav Kook himself, interpreted this yearning to mean packing up one’s books and going to live in Israel. This is the Salvation itself – the return to our national Torah life in Israel.
What affords the Jewish people stamina through our long years of exile? The yearning for Salvation. This means salvation from the Diaspora. Our daily prayers for the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael grant us the fortitude to survive. The Psalm, “If I forget you O Jerusalem,” is the bond which holds us together and which gives Diaspora Jewry its meaning and form.
A Diaspora can be in Paris, in Crown Heights, or in a very lovely suburb of Johannesburg. It can be a very comfortable exile, but it represents a destruction of our National wholeness which we are commanded to mourn. The book, Mesillat Yesharim, explains that the mourning over the exile, and the yearning for Israel’s Salvation are essential foundations in the righteous Jew’s service of God:
“Every Sage in Israel who possesses the words of Torah according to their true understanding, and grieves over the honor of the Holy One Blessed Be He, and for the honor of Israel all of his days, and yearns and feels pain for the honor of Jerusalem and for the Temple, and for the swift flowering of Salvation, and the ingathering of the exiles, he merits Divine Inspiration in his words… A Hasid of this kind, aside from the Divine service he performs in carrying out the precepts with this motivation, must certainly feel constant and actual pain over the exile, and over the destruction of Jerusalem, because of their tendency to minimize the honor of the Blessed One. And he will long for the Redemption, so that the honor of the Blessed One may be raised” (Mesillat Yesharim, Ch.19).
The Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is to be our true goal. Jerusalem is to be the center of Torah and Jewish life. This is the Salvation which every heart should long for. Our Sages teach us that the Geula (Redemption) unfolds a little at a time, like the awakening of dawn. Today, we are in the middle of the process, witnessing the gradual, inevitable cessation of galut, and the equally gradual rebuilding of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael. Slowly, increasingly, the yearning for Salvation is giving way to the Salvation itself – the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael.
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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